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I've heard that in order to write a non-fiction book I need to write notes and then put them together to make a book, but I'm writing notes from possible 4 completely different books, so when should I start turning these notes into a book?

Should I be in a hurry and write as soon as possible, even with poor quality? If I take too long, am I at risk of losing my memories and motivation to write these books?

  • Welcome to Writing.SE Sorb, glad you found us. Please check out our tour and help center. I edited your tags because it looked like you were tagging for a large variety of potential books. Please let us know if you think other tags would work better. – Cyn says make Monica whole Aug 27 '19 at 16:35
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It seems to me you need to answer some more basic questions first. What do you want to write about? Why do you want to write about it? Who is your audience, and why will they read your book?

The next step is: how will the book I want to write work? How will it be organised, in order to convey information, keep the reader's attention, etc? What material do I need?

And then, you can start collecting and organising the material--at which point, you may well start taking notes rather than immediately writing a first draft. The notes will be answers to questions such as the above: they will outline the material you will include in the book, record ideas about how to structure this material, plan how to keep the reader engaged, etc.

Sometimes, hurrying on and just writing something can be a useful exercise, and you should definitely do so if you feel like it. However, don't expect a great book to result from this exercise, and be prepared to analyse your initial work honestly in order to learn how to improve on it.

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It may sound odd, but for nonfiction it's typical to sell the book before writing it. The nonfiction audience buys a book based on two factors: what the topic is, and who the author is. If they have a strong enough interest in the topic --or have a need for the information surrounding it --they may buy the book no matter who the author is. If the author is a celebrity, or someone with a proven reputation, the audience might buy the book based just on the author. But the most typical buyer for a non-fiction book buys it because they have some reason to think this author will have something valuable to say about this topic.

So, what sells your non-fiction book is a combination of concept and credentials. If you have a strong enough combination of the two, and can demonstrate writing skill (and ideally, writing experience) someone will buy the book even before you write it. If you don't have that combination, you might as well not write it. Even if it's fantastically well-written, it's unlikely to sell.

So what you need to do is figure out what is the book people are looking for that you are qualified to write. For instance: A book related to your career; a book about the history of your ethnic group; a book based on your academic credentials; a book about a topic that you are an expert in; a book that supplies a need for an under-served niche audience.

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As @ChrisSunami says, most non-fiction books are sold before they are written.

Typically you have a synopsis, the Chapters and an outline for each, and for some books, a list of people you plan to interview (along with commitments from them).

You will also need a query letter to agents or publishers, and a sample of your writing for the chapters, like write the first chapter.

Some people will write their book first and try to sell it; just like fiction a finished work is easier for an agent to sell. Particularly if you have no compelling credentials or publication history. Most non-fiction writers have some sort of authority on their subject. For example best-selling novelists write books on writing, or getting an agent, or self-publishing.

Unlike breaking into the fiction market, publishers tend to want that subject-matter authority to sell your book. For example, you probably won't sell a book (to a publisher) explaining quantum mechanics without a doctorate in fundamental physics.

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To answer your question, you should start writing as soon as you have completed your story arc. If you can write how many "chapters" you will write and what will be their content, you can start whenever you feel like it.

You should continue reading this, though:

If I take too long, am I at risk of losing my memories

You may not be taking enough notes if you're at risk of losing your memories.

Writing about something which is based in existing literature, like non-fiction or mythology (without re-inventing it), is hard work. And the keyword, here, is work. In this field, having 4 books as source is not a lot. Of course, you may have your favorite works upon which you're basing the majority of your works, but you will probably end up diversifying your source much more than this.

Which brings me to the following point: don't just take note. Take references. When you note something on interest, also write where it's from.

This is important for many reasons, the first being that at some later time you may want more context on these notes you're taking.

Another good reason to note sources is that, over time (and it's probably already happening with only 4 books), you'll realize that some sources will give a different account of the same events. And, at some point, you will have to choose which one you'll use. There are many ways to do this. You may just use the author you trust the most, or the narrative which is the most dramatic. Or anything that suits your agenda, really. It's your book, after all.

To choose which material you will use is way harder than it looks, because these choices will have a direct impact on your story. And, as reality has no need to justify itself, sometimes you will have to chime in and fill in the gaps.

And that is, as far as I'm concerned, one important job. It's both hard and rewarding... unless you want to stick closely to the facts - then stay away from the narratives which would let you too much rope!

Good work, and have fun!

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